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Snow, ice creates big mess for local drivers

Winter arrives early in the Gorge

Winter arrived a bit early in the Columbia River Gorge this year, and western Klickitat County was feeling its effects.

The first snow of the season fell on Saturday night, and by Sunday morning most areas of the Gorge were coated in white.

By Tuesday, frigid temperatures and snowfall created an especially difficult morning for motorists in the Bingen-White Salmon area. With snow continuing to fall and cold temperatures creating icy conditions on roadways, it was not unusual for cars to spin out and go off area roads.

On Monday and Tuesday, White Salmon's public schools were on a two-hour delay schedule, although many students did not show up for classes on Tuesday.

Perhaps the most dramatic incident happened on State Route 141 near Brislawn Road. At about 9:50 a.m., a White Salmon Valley School District bus was on its way to the school loaded with students bound for Columbia High School, Henkle Middle School, and Whitson Elementary School.

According to White Salmon School District Superintendent Dale Palmer, when the bus pulled up to the stop sign at the intersection of Brislawn Road with SR 141, there was a mishap.

"The bus was chained up for the snow, but when the driver took off, the bus slipped and slid into the ditch," Palmer explained.

The bus may have broken an axle in the process.

"We're not sure of that yet, but there is damage underneath," Palmer said.

The hung up bus jutted out into the southbound lane far enough that it blocked the entire southbound lane, halting other traffic -- including another school bus coming in from BZ.

When a car attempted to go around the bus, it slipped into the ditch on the other side of the highway. The result was a stuck vehicle on both sides of SR 141, "creating only a small window for vehicles to get through," in the words of a deputy with the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office.

After over an hour waiting on the disabled bus, the students on board were transferred to the other school bus at the scene and taken on to their respective schools.

No one was injured in the incident.

"There were absolutely no injuries," Palmer said.

A commercial tow truck out of Carson was called to pull the high-centered bus out of the ditch and haul it to the school district's bus maintenance barn on Loop Road.

The highway was finally cleared at about 11:40 a.m.

Palmer said he stood by the decision not to cancel classes for the day.

"I still think it was a good call to go two hours late. We're in the Gorge, there's going to be snow, and the buses were chained up. This was a fluke," Palmer said. "Given the exact same conditions, we'd go with a two-hour delay again."

Palmer added that there were no other incidents with school buses on either Monday or Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the area, the bottom of Loop Road was a mess with many cars unable to get up the slippery hill. Law enforcement officers called for the county to send road crews to the location to sand the roadway in an effort to provide some traction.

Relatively minor fender benders were common around the community, as cars could not stop or steer effectively on the icy pavement. No injuries were reported.

Downtown merchants were busy shoveling snow off the sidewalks in front of their storefronts on Monday and Tuesday, but continuing snowfall meant the chore had to be repeated more than once.

The weather forecast offers a bit of hope for better driving conditions: Friday's weather report suggests there will be rain showers, with a high temperature of 38 and a low of 28. Saturday's forecast again calls for a high of 38 and a low of 28, so beware of nighttime driving -- black ice could be present.


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